Leave it to University of Arkansas Vice Chancellor and Athletic Director Jeff Long (with some very hard politicking from the candidate himself) to think outside the box and hire Jimmy Dykes as the new Arkansas Women’s Basketball coach this past week.
The WPS factor (that’s Woo Pig Sooie, for all you uninitiated) went higher up the charts than expected for a normal college coaching hire for women’s basketball. The WPS factor went absolutely viral all over the college basketball coaching world on the eve of the Sweet 16 in the Men’s Tournament and as the Women’s Tournament was winding down to its own Championship run.
What caused this anomaly? Well it was more than just a hire for a coaching spot.
It was hiring one of the best basketball television commentators away from ESPN and ABC Sports and back into college coaching. And it was coaching a sport – women’s basketball – he himself has never coached that has left some folks scratching their head.
Quickly we all learned that the velvet throated Dykes would be the eighth person to steer the helm of the women’s program at the UA. He takes over after the abrupt firing on Tom Collen (the seventh leader of the program) who has finished his career at Arkansas with an overall 132-90 record, but the program fell to 19-11 this season, 13-1 in non-conference play, and a dismal 6-10 in SEC play. The squad under Collen also failed to make either the NCAA Women’s Tournament or the Women’s NIT this season.
Now before we go on and on about Coach Dykes and his plans for the Women’s team, here is a little trivia? Name the first coach of the women’s program from 1976-77? It was Sharon Ogle who led the women to a 10-6 record her first season under federal Title IX. Ogle went on to post a 24-15 record in two seasons. Attendance was sporadic and fan support at best was low.
Next came the late Joan Henin, who in three seasons, posted a 33-41 mark. As the program grew, a new coach, Matilda Willis, was hired away from the Tulsa program. Willis led the Lady Razorbacks as they were known back to a 67-27 mark. She was lured away from Arkansas to Kansas State.
The first man, hired to coach the team was John Sutherland, who for nine seasons led the UA Women to an overall 174-88 mark and some SWC glory. He was fired after a first-year 7-15 mark in the SEC. Sutherland went on to become an assistant at Notre Dame and Marshall before becoming a head coach at New Mexico. He is now retired.
Gary Blair, now the head coach at Texas A&M, lasted a decade at the UA, amassing a 198-120 mark and taking the program to the Women’s Final Four and the Women’s NIT several times. The Lady Razorbacks won the Women’s NIT in Fayetteville in 1989-99 beating Wisconsin’s Lady Badgers at Bud Walton Arena.
Blair left Arkansas under a cloud, ducking back to his native Texas as A&M offered him a job after the 2002-2003 season.
Susie Gardner became the sixth women’s coach but lasted four years as lagging attendance and a 64-54 mark caused her to resign. She is now the head coach at Mercer University.
Colleen, the seventh person to coach the women’s team was an assistant under Blair and knew the Arkansas territory. He has made his own marks at Colorado State and Louisville where he produced winning programs prior to his Arkansas years. However failing to make the post-season and declining attendance left Colleen’s job in jeopardy.
Back to the present hire.
Coach Dykes says he wants to “re-brand the women’s squad.” And he is so right. That idea, initially, was already floated by long-time Razorback observer, Nate Allen, a freelancer who also writes a column for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Shortly after Collen’s firing, Allen challenged the collective UA Sports minds to re-examine the current Athletic Department administrative edict to the terrible marketing mistake of dropping the “Lady Razorback” label a few seasons ago. The program, Allen wrote, had lost its identity.
Apparently, newly hired Coach Dykes agrees. So do I.
Dykes, who is a former Razorback under the regime of Eddie Sutton, has also served as an assistant basketball coach at University of Arkansas, Appalachian State University, University of Kentucky, Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Oklahoma State University. He also served as a scout for the NBA's Seattle Super Sonics. Dykes also was the athletic director in 2006 atShiloh Christian High School in Springdale.
When Coach Jimmy Dykes (get used to saying that folks) says he knows what it takes to win, I don’t disagree. He knows it will take excellent recruiting, disciplined play, dedication and hard work on his players. He expects excellence in the classroom and on the hardwood. Coach Dykes also knows it will take a “new day” for women’s basketball to make the kind of team and impression he wants to make out there in the work for the Razorback nation.
We offer him all the WPS that we can. And wishes for a quick, vibrant transition to pull this program back to the top. We haven’t heard him say it yet, but Coach Dykes will no doubt, repeat this: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Bet on Coach Jimmy Dykes and the Arkansas women’s basketball team to provide that rising tide in the seasons ahead.